Advancing a multidimensional, developmental spectrum approach to preschool disruptive behavior

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2014 Jan;53(1):82-96.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2013.10.011. Epub 2013 Nov 7.


Objective: Dimensional approaches are gaining scientific traction. However, their potential for elucidating developmental aspects of psychopathology has not been fully realized. The goal of this article is to apply a multidimensional, developmental framework to model the normal-abnormal spectrum of preschool disruptive behavior. The Multidimensional Assessment of Preschool Disruptive Behavior (MAP-DB), a novel measure, was used to model dimensional severity across developmental parameters theorized to distinguish the normative misbehavior of early childhood from clinically salient disruptive behavior. The 4 MAP-DB dimensions are Temper Loss, Noncompliance, Aggression, and Low Concern for Others.

Method: Parents of a diverse sample of 1,488 preschoolers completed the MAP-DB. Multidimensional item response theory (IRT) was used for dimensional modeling.

Results: The 4-dimensional, developmentally informed model demonstrated excellent fit. Its factor loadings did not differ across demographic subgroups. All dimensions provided good coverage of the abnormal end of the severity continuum, but only Temper Loss and Noncompliance provided good coverage of milder, normatively occurring behaviors. The developmental expectability and quality of behaviors distinguished normative from atypical behaviors. The point at which frequency of behaviors was atypical varied based on dimensional location for Temper Loss, Noncompliance, and Aggression.

Conclusion: The MAP-DB provides an innovative method for operationalizing developmentally specified, dimensional phenotypes in early childhood. Establishing the validity of these dimensional phenotypes in relation to clinical outcomes, neurocognitive substrates, and etiologic pathways will be a crucial test of their clinical utility.

Keywords: developmental psychopathology; dimensional; disruptive behavior; externalizing spectrum; preschool.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / standards*
  • Psychometrics / instrumentation*